A Second Look–Browns v. Washington

Connor Shaw, because he's the only QB who deserves it after completing 8-of-9 passes for 123 yards and a 45-yard Hail Mary touchdown
Connor Shaw, because he’s the only QB who deserves it after completing 8-of-9 passes for 123 yards and a 45-yard Hail Mary touchdown

I thought about titling this post “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”  Then I checked my archives and realized I already wrote a post with that title last season.  Which really, as a Browns fan, shouldn’t surprise me at all.  I should be used to the bad and the ugly and just be pleasantly surprised when they are accompanied by any good. But, alas, like all true Browns fans, I am always hoping.  And it was with great hope that I tuned in to last night’s second preseason game against Washington.

That hope was quickly demolished during the Browns’ first offensive series.  1st play: sack, 2nd play: false start, 3rd play: laser pass to a completely oblivious Jordan Cameron, 4th play: run that fails to secure the first down, 5th play: punt.  UGH. Ugly.

But before I get too far into the bad, let’s talk about some of the good stuff that happened…

Barkevious Mingo played like a bat out of hell!  He consistently put big pressure on the passer, and if the pass got off, he immediately ran over to help tackle the receiver.  He never slowed down.  He finally looked like a guy worthy of being the Browns first pick in last year’s draft, and I am going to have fun watching him this year.

There were shining moments from several other members of the Browns defense as well.  Billy Winn and big Phil Taylor also looked nice on the pass rush.  Craig Robertson recovered a fumble and continued to tackle well.  Chris Kirksey and Zac Diles also recorded a few more solid tackles.  Pettine’s crazy blitz schemes were effective, and forced all three Washington passers to make mistakes.  Joe Haden, Tashaun Gipson, and Jim Leonhard all capitalized by recording interceptions.  The young Armonty Bryant blocked another pass and followed it up with a huge sack.  All in all, the Browns’ ability to get at the passer should be a huge game changer this season if (and that’s a BIG IF) the offense can capitalize on turnovers.

The only potential downside to this chaotic, blitzing defense is the heavy load it places on the Browns secondary.  Joe Haden is clearly up to the task, but with Buster Skrine out after thumb surgery, it will be interesting to see whether rookie corner Justin Gilbert can rise to the occasion.  He had one nice pass breakup in the endzone, but overall I would like to see him get his head around quicker, especially with the new focus on pass interference by officials.  Leon McFadden is another corner to watch—I liked his aggressiveness last night, but if the officials continue to call illegal contact penalties at their current rate, his penalties may cost the Browns more than he’s worth.  Another corner that you shouldn’t have to watch after last night is Royce Adams.  He got beat over and over by Washington’s receivers, twice in the end zone. He’ll most likely be cut before I finish typing this…

Arguably the most exciting aspect of the Browns defense last night was their red zone stand.  At one point they stood at the 1-yard line and stopped the run three consecutive times, preventing Washington from scoring and getting possession of the ball.  This is an area where the Browns defense really struggled last season.  I’m excited to see them turn around their red zone play this year.

And now, I guess, I have to talk about the Browns offense.

Lost in the Browns horrible passing game last night was a decent running game.  Ben Tate showed promise as the Browns starting runner and reminded everyone why he was picked up in free agency to do that job.  He reads Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme well, and it continues to look like the Browns run game should be much improved from last season.

One lingering question about the Browns running backs, however, is who will fill out the rest of the roster.  It’s obvious Tate and Terrance West fall in at numbers 1 and 2 respectively, but what about Edwin Baker and Isaiah Crowell?  For some reason, despite very little success (and yes, I count a touchdown that was almost a fumble as “very little success”), the Browns keep playing Dion Lewis.  Does the coaching staff see something I don’t?  I guess they must???

Regardless, I can tell you what NO ONE saw last night.  And that was decent pass play by either Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel.  Hoyer got sacked on the first play of the night and never looked settled after that.  Manziel still isn’t appropriately anticipating his receivers.  All in all, their mediocre play, in addition to some more mediocre play by the receiving corps, led to a bunch of dropped passes… and I mean a bunch.  Jordan Cameron dropped the ball.  Josh Gordon dropped the ball.  Anthony Armstrong dropped the ball.   MarQuies Gray caught the ball… and then he fumbled it.  Forget mediocre, it was truly miserable to watch.

(On a side note… I am standing firm this year—I am not a Mitchell Schwartz fan.  I couldn’t stand watching him early last season; then, a bunch of people tried to convince me he progressed toward the end of the year.  HOGWASH!!!  He’s awful!  He can’t hold the edge, and he made both Hoyer and Manziel look worse last night.  And that, my friends, was his only impressive feat.  Time for a new right tackle… ASAP.)

But back to the infamous quarterback battle.  I have avoided wading into this conversation because it hasn’t been rational… not on ESPN, not on local radio, not on Twitter, not anywhere.  But here is what I will say after last night:

I think the way the Browns structured this QB competition has been bad for both Hoyer and Manziel.  The Jaguars declared Chad Henne their starter and Blake Bortles a bench warmer the day after the draft.  Now that decision, if they follow through on it, may seem stupid to some (or everyone).  But here’s the great part: the Jags don’t actually have to follow through on it… They can do whatever they want.  And by making that statement, by clearing up any questions immediately, they took the pressure off both Henne and Bortles.  Their only focus—during OTAs, during camp, during preseason games—has been learning the offense and preparing to win football games.  Hoyer and Manziel, on the other hand, have been constantly barraged by fan and media attention over this competition.  So, instead of focusing on their own progress, they have had to focus on each other, on vibes from their teammates and coaches, on media attention… on everything but football.  And it doesn’t seem to have paid off.

In fact, the only Browns quarterback who looked remotely decent last night was 4th string, undrafted rookie free agent Connor Shaw.  He looked poised and confident running his first 2-minute drill and ended the night with the highest completion percentage of all three passers after launching a Hail Mary into the endzone that was caught for a touchdown.  He likely secured his spot on the practice squad.

Manziel, on the other hand, flipped everyone the bird.

Oh, and Billy Cundiff kicked a ball out of bounds and missed a field goal.  #Istill missPhilDawson

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